77SQN flies high stakes on Red Flag

A RAAF F/A-18A Hornet on the flight line at sunrise during Exercise Red Flag 19-1 held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, USA.

Number 77 Squadron has proven itself a worthy adversary during Exercise Red Flag Nellis 19-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, United States.

Red Flag is based around realistic training scenarios for combat aircrew, including engagement by air and ground threats, the possibility of being in a simulated shootdown, and run-throughs of personnel recovery procedures including escape and evasion. 

The training is aimed at aircrew who have limited combat experience, either from exercises or operations, and gives them the opportunity to hone their skills in a high-tempo hostile battlespace.

Wing Commander Jason Easthope, Commanding Officer of 77SQN, said it’s a highly complex exercise that creates an environment that the Squadron doesn’t get to operate in at home. 

“It’s fully integrated with realistic scenarios; if you’re in the fight and you get shotdown by a surface-to-air or air-to-air threat, then in the scenario, you’re dead and you go back to base,” he said.

“The pressure is on, and this feeling like you’re in combat is difficult to simulate in Australia.”

The integration 77SQN had with the US and the UK is also invaluable in both training and real-time situations.

“You can’t put a price on training with people that one day you may be working with on operations,” said WGCDR Easthope.

“The relationships we build at Red Flag are incredibly important, in a professional and personal sense.” 

While the exercise is all about flying aircraft, the maintenance crews are essential to each mission.

During this iteration of Red Flag, they have been challenged by freezing temperatures which have tested the aircraft and the resilience of the maintenance crews.

Warrant Officer Tony Collie, WOE 77SQN, said the weather and environment have resulted in unexpected maintenance for the aircraft. 

“Coming from quite a hot climate to over here with anything from zero to 15 degrees has been the biggest challenge with the icy conditions leading to quite a few engine changes, “ he said.

“The logistics involved in trying to get those extra engines over took a lot of work, but other than that it’s been quite normal.

“It’s more of marathon than a sprint, and I’ve been very impressed and proud of the maintenance team’s exceptional behaviour and professionalism.”